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Advocates to GOP Senator Vitter: ‘Forcing People to Show ID to Use Food Stamps Would Hurt the Poor’

Last Wednesday, Louisiana Senator David Vitter proposed a new measure to stop food stamp fraud. His proposed bill, the Food Stamp Fraud Prevention and Accountability Act would require all food stamp (SNAP) recipients to show a valid photo ID every time they purchase food using their EBT cards.

“Using a photo ID is standard in many day-to-day transactions, and most of those are not exclusively paid for by the taxpayer dollars,” Vitter said via press release.

He added that his bill would cut back on user fraud and food stamp costs.

“Food Stamps have more than doubled in cost since 2008 and continue to grow in an unsustainable way, and the events in Louisiana unfortunately highlight the fraud surrounding the taxpayer- funded program,” he pointed out. “My bill will restore some accountability to the program so it’s not ruined for people who use it appropriately.”

In truth, food stamp fraud is rare these days and well over 96 percent of food stamp users, many of them families with children and the elderly use the program as it was intended, to buy food to keep their families from going hungry.  Among those that do defraud the system, the most common type of fraud involves lying on their applications or engaging in shady deals with merchants to turn their food stamps into cash, often for cents on the dollar.

Further, the fraud Vitter alluded to as the reason for the new law was actually the result of a computer glitch that temporarily gave EBT users unlimited balances on their card. Showing IDs would not stop this type of fraud, according to Deborah Weinstein, executive director of Coalition for Human Needs.

“If Senator Vitter wants to solve the problem of serious flaws in computer systems, he should seek to hold the contractors paid by the state responsible and require oversight to prevent further failures,” Weinstein said, stressing that the Senator’s plan fails to meet the intended mark.

She added that while Vitter’s plan will not stop food stamp abuses, but it will will stop those trying to feed their families from accessing the food they need.

“Senator Vitter’s proposal will be especially tough on elderly and poor people who do not have the documents needed to get their photo ID, and who will struggle even to get to the necessary offices.  They will wind up going without food,” she explained.

Vitter’s new plan, much like the proposed voter ID laws also aimed at stopping fraud, would also disproportionately impact minorities and the elderly.  According to a study conducted by the Brennan Center of voting age adults, African-Americans and the elderly are significantly more likely to lack a photo ID, especially if they are also poor, making them the most likely to suffer if IDs become a requirement every time they use food stamps to buy food.

Photo Credit: Wonderlane via Creative Commons

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.

  • Charles Vise

    Ms. Tamar, here in Louisiana, everyone has a right to a photo I.D., even a person who cannot afford it. Poor people can get a photo I.D. for free. Besides, I would venture to say that most, if not all, of the elderly in Louisiana are receiving Social Security benefits, which requires the recipient to have a bank account into which the payments can be deposited electronically or physically. And we both know, you can’t get a bank account without a photo I.D. !
    The only people here who can’t readily obtain a photo I.D. are illegal aliens, and I do believe that it is this group that Mr. Vitter’s proposed law would impact the most. I see that you have conveniently failed to mention this group in your article.

    • Tamar Auber

      Dear Charles,

      Thank you for your reply.

      The reason I did not mention people who are not in the country illegally is because persons who are in the country without permission are not eligible to receive food stamps.

      The confusion comes when there is one person or more in the house (such as a child born in the US) who is eligible when the rest of the family is not, which makes it seem that families here illegally are getting aid.

      I admit when households have people here legally and some not, (for example, children born here, but parents without status) it does appear that a family with illegal status is getting aid, but that is not the federal law and the support is intended to help those who are actually eligible to apply because they are citizens and permanent residents.

      I have posted the current USDA guidelines below dictate who is allowed to get food stamps.

      Here they are:

      The 2002 Farm Bill restores SNAP eligibility to most LEGAL immigrants that:

      Have lived in the country for 5 years; or

      Are receiving disability-related assistance or benefits; or

      Children under 18

      Certain non-citizens such as those admitted for humanitarian reasons and those admitted for permanent residence may also eligible for the program. Eligible household members can get SNAP benefits even if there are other members of the household that are not eligible.

      (See SNAP Policy on Immigrants for information on qualified alien categories and eligibility)

      Non-citizens that are in the U.S. temporarily, such as students, are not eligible.

      And here is the link: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/immigrant-eligibility-requirements